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The ACT Writing Test

Written by tutor Kellie C.

The ACT Writing test is a thirty-minute essay exam that measures your writing skills - or, more specifically, those skills that your teachers emphasize in your high school English and entry-level college composition courses. Within those thirty minutes, you will be required to read a brief prompt, and plan and write an organized, well-developed essay in response to it. The prompts on the ACT Writing Test encompass a range of subjects intended to reflect your interests, choices, and experiences as a high school student. All prompts are appropriate for the thirty-minute time limit, and do not require any specialized knowledge.

Sample ACT Writing Prompt

The following is a representative ACT Writing Test prompt:

Educators debate extending high school to five years because of increasing demands on students from employers and colleges to participate in extracurricular activities and community service in addition to having high grades. Some educators support extending high school to five years because they think students need more time to achieve all that is expected of them. Other educators do not support extending high school to five years because they think students would lose interest in school and attendance would drop in the fifth year. In your opinion, should high school be extended to five years?

In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either one of the two points of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this question. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position. (Source.)

As you can see, you will be asked to respond to an issue of which there are two sides. It is very important to note that your score will not be affected by the point of view you adopt on the issue.

How Your Essay will be Evaluated

Your writing will be evaluated on your ability to: express an argument by taking a position on the issue provided; maintain relevant focus throughout your essay; develop your position using logical reasoning and timely support; logically organize your arguments; and use language that is clear and effective.

Your writing will be scored "holistically;" in other words, it will be scored based on the overall impression it offers, an impression created by all of the elements listed above. Two trained readers will score your essay on a scale from 1 through 6, with 6 being the highest score achievable. The sum of the readers' ratings forms your Writing subscore (see below).

Note: If your readers' ratings disagree by more than ONE point, a third reader will evaluate your essay and solve the discrepancy.

Useful Tips

Pace yourself. Think through the issue presented and allow yourself approximately 3-5 minutes of drafting time, and 1-2 minutes to revise. Make corrections and revisions neatly, between the lines. Do not use the margins!

When writing, ensure that your readers grasp that you understand the issue presented. You might choose to discuss the issue in a broader context, or evaluate the implications of the issue. Always address the counterargument (what others might say in opposition to your view/s)!

Write emphatically. Declare your significant ideas at the end of your sentences. Do not repeat yourself, and do not qualify what you have just argued if you do not have to. Simply make your point and move on.

Practice, practice, practice! Read as many varied sources as you can leading up to Test Day. The writing that you do in your classes will also be beneficial, as it is helpful to learn how to write for different audiences. It is also a great idea to practice composing a complete essay within the thirty-minute time limit.

Using Appropriate Tone and Style

When composing your piece, you will want to make your writing as smooth and sophisticated as you are able. In order to accomplish such a feat:

  1. Rely on evidence over feeling - you cannot trust passionate rhetoric alone.
  2. Watch your use of "you" - do you desire or intend to aim your arguments directly at the reader? If you do not, trying using the more impersonal pronoun "one."
  3. Be concise - do you need words such as "actually," "basically," or "generally," and phrases such as "in my opinion"?
  4. Use transitions (therefore, however, similarly).
  5. Vary the structure of your sentences.
  6. Always proofread, because your does not want to have to wrestle with your sentences - try reading your piece from the bottom up, or from the last sentence to the first sentence.

Essay Outline and Preparatory Worksheet

Use this outline for guidance when drafting an ACT Writing essay.

1. Introduction

a. General sentence related to thesis statement (may also rewrite prompt):

b. General sentence related to thesis statement/ Interesting fact, statistic, and/or quote:

c. Thesis statement (your position):

Argument 1:

Argument 2:

Counterargument:

2. Argument 1

a. Topic sentence:

b.

c.

d.

e.

f.

g.

h. Transition statement:

3. Argument 2

a. Topic sentence:

b.

c.

d.

e.

f.

g.

h. Transition statement:

4.. Counterargument

a. Topic sentence:

b.

c.

d.

e.

f.

g.

h. Transition statement:

5. Conclusion (narrow to broad)

a. Restate thesis:

Restate general sentence related to thesis:

Summary statement (can look to future implications of the topic):

Why is this important to know?

What else is there to learn?

Compiling a List of Appropriate Evidence

Use this list to help you gather evidence for your essay.

List 2-3 unique things for each category.

  1. Current events (major sporting events, political revolutions, public health issues...)
  2. Literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Road...)
  3. Historical figures (Abraham Lincoln; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Gandhi...)
  4. Personal experience (try not to include friends)
  5. Pop culture (new technologies, influence of a certain actor or singer, business leaders...)
  6. Ambiguous categories, including whether something is right or wrong, or whether something should or should not be allowed

Additional Information

Remember, the ACT Writing Test is optional!

If you do register for the ACT Plus Writing, you will complete the essay AFTER you complete the four multiple-choice tests.

The Writing Test will NOT affect your Composite Score. You will instead receive two additional scores: a Combined English/Writing score on a scale of 1 though 36 and a Writing subscore on a scale of 2 through 12. You will also receive reader comments on your work.

Works Cited for this Lesson

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